SPRING is one of Monty Don’s favourite times of the year, when primroses, daffodils, fritillaries and tulips emerge in his beautiful garden at Longmeadow.
It’s a sight he won’t enjoy alone, as two million viewers who tune into Gardeners’ World every week will be invited to share the many glories of his two-acre garden, which is divided into 19 different sections.
For nine months of the year, from February to November, TV crews film in his garden in the Herefordshire Marches, eight miles from the Welsh border.
The garden will be revealed in the new series of Gardeners’ World, which begins on Friday on BBC2, and is accompanied by a tie-in book, Gardening At Longmeadow. Don, the main presenter, admits that opening up his own two-acre private garden to the cameras hasn’t come without its drawbacks, but the pros far outweigh the cons.
“The good thing is I have no journey, the downside is that I live above the shop. I never turn off from it.”
Don, pictured, may have allowed the cameras in to the garden, but they are not allowed in the house. For the last five years, he and his wife, Sarah, have had no help at all, until the BBC insisted on it. Don now has two full-time gardeners to assist.
“The slight downside of that means I do less gardening because there’s less to do.
“It’s a bit like having a chef in the kitchen asking if I’d like a poached egg, when I could quite easily poach one myself.” But he remains the master of his own domain.
“Nobody tells me what to do in my own garden.
“People are genuinely helping me, rather than doing it themselves and then telling me about it.
“Obviously you lose your privacy to a degree because you are sharing it with X-million people.
“On one hand you want more people to see it, on the other you only want to have invited people.
“But there are certain boundaries which are not crossed.
“For example, we never have visitors from the public to Longmeadow, although we often get letters from people asking to come and see it.”
He said: “You always have to say ‘no’ because you know it’s the thin end of the wedge.”
“It’s a complicated, large, full garden – no big lawns, no empty spaces, and even the orchard has 39 apple trees.
“We’ve had to widen quite a lot of paths which are perfectly good for wheeling a wheelbarrow down.
“But by the time you get a camera crew with a tripod and a sound recordist with size 12 feet and a director with a monitor, you can have six people behind the camera or more, and then tracks and a jib.
“The original paths can’t accommodate all that.
“We’ve had to widen a number of paths and we still are. Where we’ve had grass paths, we’ve had to put hard paths. As with any public place, the equation has had to change with volume.”
At any one time, 90 per cent of the garden needs to look good, which can be difficult to achieve, he reflects.
“Inevitably, all of the garden has to look good all the time, whereas in a private garden, if you hadn’t weeded that bed, you do it when you can.
“Or if you got terribly behind with your veg, you’d think, ‘Ok, I won’t grow any peas this year’.
“A TV programme doesn’t allow for that, but I do try to show the camera where things go wrong and show the human side of it, rather than making it a show garden, because it’s not a show garden.”
He stresses that the BBC has been extremely good about not trying to lose the personal element.
“Obviously you lose your privacy to a degree because you are sharing it with X-million people. On one hand you want more people to see it, on the other you only want to have invited people. But there are certain boundaries which are not crossed.
“For example, we never have visitors from the public to Longmeadow, although we often get letters from people asking to come and see it.
You always have to say no because you know it’s the thin end of the wedge.”
Occasionally, tourists will turn up unannounced, keen for a glimpse of the famous TV garden, but the locals are keen to allow the Dons their space.
After all, they’ve lived there for 20 years and are well known enough in the village.
This year, Don will be creating a pond in the Damp Garden and is looking forward to seeing the fruits of last year’s labours with great swathes of colour in the Jewel Garden and elsewhere.
“The key thing is the rhythm and cycle of the year of gardening. It’s not like a house which you refurbish and decorate and it’s done. The garden’s never done, it’s always changing and adapting.”
So, has he lost the private leisure he once had in his garden?
“For me, leisure is digging and planting and weeding,” he shrugs.
After leaving Gardeners’ World in 2008 through ill health, he says the only way he would have returned was to film at Longmeadow.
His current agreement ends at the end of this year, but he’s hoping the TV partnership will continue after that.
“The work we did last year will take at least three years to come to fruition. It would be a terrible waste if that didn’t happen.
“I’d like it to be a five-year arrangement and beyond that, who knows?”
* Gardening At Longmeadow, by Monty Don, is published by BBC Books on March 15, priced £25. T
he new series of Gardeners’ World starts on Friday, March 9 on BBC Two.